I’m having somewhat of an existential crisis. I’m 53, so it can hardly be considered a midlife crisis, although my people tend to live long lives.
I’m thinking of quitting fiction writing. I’ve been here before. It’s nothing new for me, nor I’m sure, for many creatives. We doubt ourselves, our ability to do the work well. To be paid to do the work. Or, even, to be regarded at all.
Jeff is a painter. He paints almost every day, and I can see how beautifully his work has improved. He submits his art to the Linden Gallery Postcard show and gets sales. He’s entered his work into other exhibitions and has a mix of sales and no sales. But most important (to me) is to have views.
I know that getting people to read is going uphill on a gravel road on skates. I don’t write fantasy or sci-fi. I don’t write popular fiction like chick lit (I’ll continue to use this term until a better definition comes along), mystery or suspense.
I write about women’s lives. I observe them through my writing. I’m a good writer, I can admit that and feel fine knowing that some will scoff and say things like “ah yes, you’re one of those people who thinks she can write, publishes unedited crap on Amazon, and then wonders why nobody buys or reads it.”
I’m not one of those people.
I write good first drafts. I actually do. I don’t care what others say, that the first draft is rubbish. My first drafts are not rubbish. Then need attention. But definitely not rubbish. My stories are fully formed before I press Ctrl+S. I know my characters as though they are my family.
I write good first drafts. I don’t re-read my standard blog posts. Big ones, like this one, I’ll read and edit (although now that I’ve written it and corrected the spelling and grammar, I’ve decided not to re-read it). I might move sentences around, flesh some out. I’ll correct grammar and spelling, that’s a given. I’m not a neanderthal.
But I’m not clever or quirky. As a journalist, I was more gonzo than reporter. As a fiction writer – whether poems, short stories, or novels – I write straight up Literature with a capital L.
I once entered a short story competition and won equal third with someone. I once submitted a short story to an editor, and it was published in a real print book.
My work isn’t necessarily anything new.
However, I can write.
But my work is not marketable. My work does not have twists like other great modern Literature like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I don’t write like Elena Ferrante, whoever s/he is.
As a self-published author, I don’t want to do any marketing other than tell my friends. And, even then, as if any of them read.
Writing comes easy for me. I don’t have writer’s block. I can look at an empty screen, cursor flashing, and write.
Writing is also the hardest thing I can do. I bleed onto the page. Even when I’m in flow, my soul is laid bare. That’s where you’ll find my pain.
So why bother writing if nobody is going to read it. Is it worth my pain for those five people, mostly friends, who say “it’s so good”?
I mean, thank you. All five of you mean a lot to me.
However, I’m sorry to say that it’s not enough.
I have always loved planning. Getting my characters, locations, situations down. I write sentences, plot out my chapters, or sometimes just writing by the seat of my pants with a very basic outline, although I do less of that these days with my fiction.
I’m taking a course through Domestika. A writing course, with a teacher who runs though, step-by-step, how she plots and plans a novel. I’m taking the course to give me some fire, to get started with the actual work. But it’s just so practical. It takes the joy out of discovery. When I write a scene, I have an idea of where I’m heading, but that’s all. An idea. Careful plotting just takes the joy out of it all. And if I don’t do it for money, nor for joy, then what’s the point of it all?
So here I am, with an outline. I know the first and the last scenes. And yet, the thought of spending the next few years writing and then (the godawful painful task of) editing and then proofreading, paying an editor, typesetting it all, uploading it to Amazon, then reformatting it for other self-publishing websites, to then never be read… well that just sucks balls.
I do get print copies though, and I pop them into my little street library for people to take (and probably never read).
A couple of years ago, I entered two of my books into the Linden Gallery Postcard Show. How? I painted a canvas, then stuck the book onto it and tied leather cord around it.
Nobody bought it. But seeing it on display, where thousands of people could see it, was a thrill. And unless I’m prepared to go through the drama of submitting my work to a traditional publisher who may get me into a bookshop, books as art may be the best I can do to get eyes on my work.
I didn’t sell books as art, either.
But my work is unmarketable. It doesn’t have a hook. It doesn’t follow the rules of structure. Because life doesn’t follow those rules. And my books are about life.
So, start writing books that people want to read…
I write what I write.
So back to the question (was it a question?). Should I quit writing? I did once. Then I wrote a book, published it. I’m not sure if I felt any joy when that happened. Because I knew it wouldn’t be read. Because I’m not up for the crap it takes to push it. I’m shit at that, always have been. Marketing myself certainly brings me no joy.
And this beautiful story I have in my head, plotted, and outlined, may stay there. Because the thought of writing it just doesn’t spark joy right now.